DEAR MAYO CLINIC: During the COVID-19 outbreak, I'm trying to limit trips to the grocery store. But I want to continue to eat healthy meals. What foods should I consider stocking up on, knowing that I probably won't be buying anything fresh for a couple of weeks?
ANSWER: Most people are in the habit of stopping by the grocery store at least once a week -- and sometimes more often if we run out of a favorite item, decide to make a new dish or just want something fresh. So planning a shopping trip for groceries that will cover two weeks of meals and offer lots of healthy options may be daunting. But with careful planning, and some adjustments to the way you shop for and store your groceries, it can be done.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, social distancing -- putting space between yourself and others to reduce the spread of illness -- has become commonplace. That, along with the need for many people to self-quarantine for several weeks and shelter-in-place orders going into effect in some areas, has eliminated most quick grocery trips. The challenge of getting all the food you need for an extended time also is compounded by the fact that many other people are trying to do the same, so supplies of certain items may be limited.
As you think about how to tackle your grocery shopping, take time to plan. Check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Consider how you can use the items that you already have, so your shopping focuses on what you really need and will use. Confirm that you have staple items, such as flour and sugar.
When you make your grocery list, consider your new routines, your family and the meals you'll eat. For example, if you have children home from school, you'll need more supplies for lunches than usual. Peanut butter for sandwiches is a good staple that's easy to store. Lunch foods such as bread, cheese and deli meat freeze well, so buy extra and freeze what you don't need right away.
Other fresh foods can be frozen and used later, as well, without losing their nutritional benefits. For example, fresh berries, bananas and other fruits can be frozen then thawed and used in smoothies. Meats such as beef, chicken and fish will last for about four months in the freezer.
As an alternative to picking all fresh foods, buying frozen options from the store can be a good choice when you want to stretch what you have over time. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be a healthy part of your meal planning. Because these items typically are frozen at their peak of freshness and undergo minimal processing before they are packaged, they retain their nutritional value.
If fresh or frozen items are in limited supply in your store, try shelf-stable alternatives. You can buy egg whites in cartons if you can't find eggs. Powdered milk, and canned fruits and vegetables, also serve as suitable alternatives that have the benefit of lasting longer over time. Eggs, for instance, often have three weeks to a month of use. Egg whites in a carton, however, can be used for about six to eight weeks. Make sure to check the expiration dates on the items you buy to see how long they can be stored before use.
As you make decisions about what to buy for an extended period at home, be realistic about what you really need. Don't panic and purchase too many items. Buy foods you commonly use and that you know your family will eat. And even if you have to buy brands or alternatives that are different than usual for you, stay focused on the foundations of a healthy diet: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. -- Debra Silverman, M.S., RDN, LD/N, Dietetics, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida
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